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Valparaiso's profile has climbed steadily in the last couple of years. Of course, it didn't hurt that Valparaiso University's Crusaders went to the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA Division I college basketball tournament in 1998.

With its landmark Chapel of the Resurrection bell tower in the heart of the Lutheran campus, the university has been an important part of Valparaiso for more than a century.

But just as important is Valparaiso's downtown. While many Hoosier cities have lost their downtowns because of suburban development, Valparaiso's city center has held its own.

Even a devastating fire a few years ago that left a gaping hole on the courthouse square, where Lowenstine's Department Store used to be, didn't kill downtown.

With more than 30,000 people, Valparaiso is the county seat of Porter County. Just north of the city is the Indiana Dunes State Park and the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. South, flat farmland spreads out until it reaches the marshes of the Kankakee River.

It's an attractive and unusual setting, says Bill Oeding, president of the Valparaiso Chamber of Commerce. "Valparaiso is a vibrant city. It's safe to walk the street and it's a comfortable place to live. Oeding and his wife live near downtown and walk there every day. Just off the downtown are several blocks of historic homes, most of which have been restored.

Away from downtown, the city has worked hard to develop industrial parks and professional centers. In spite of the announced closing of the Orville Redenbacher's Popcorn plant, the city rebounded within days, saying it would replace those 250 jobs with 274 jobs when Pratt Industries opens this spring.

Certainly it was a psychological blow when the Redenbacher announcement was made. After all, Orville Redenbacher's roots are in Valparaiso and it's because of him that the city hosts one of Indiana's largest festivals each fall, the Popcorn Fest.

But one thing that makes Valparaiso special, says Oeding, is how it pulls together in a time of crisis. Oeding recalls the night the Lowenstine's building burned. It was a landmark department store. It had everything--on a smaller scale, of course--that one could find at Marshall Field's in Chicago. People came from everywhere to shop in downtown Valparaiso. "It was devastating to see that building burn," Oeding recalls.

Enter Spiro Valavanis, a partner with Design Organization in Valparaiso. The firm designed the new 57 Franklin Building, which when it opens will look similar to the Lowenstine's building. "Preserving the architectural heritage of the downtown was our first priority," says Valavanis. "We didn't want to diminish the property values in downtown."

There was little threat of that. Design Organization, which also has an office in Chicago, was involved in renovating the Porter County Courthouse, City Hall and the Napoleon Business Center as well as designing the new Porter County Administrative Complex downtown.

People don't think of Valparaiso as merely as a university town, says Oeding. Still, he says, "the university adds quality to the city and it helps make us what we are."

Valparaiso University, with some 3,700 students, has more than 60 majors in four undergraduate programs along with several graduate programs. Among its noteworthy courses of study are theology, engineering and nursing, and it has the only law school in the region. It regularly fares well on U.S. News & World Report collegiate rankings.

The university is also, of course, a major Valparaiso employer. So is Porter Memorial Hospital, a full-service health-care center with services including cardiology, oncology, obstetrics, pediatrics, surgery, orthopedics, rehabilitation, emergency and occupational medicine. Other significant employers include Urschel Laboratories, manufacturer of food-and chemical-processing equipment, and McGill Manufacturing, maker of switches and bearings.

But Valparaiso also serves as a bedroom community, with residents commuting to businesses elsewhere in northwest Indiana and in Chicago. In addition to the historic downtown residences, more suburban options are numerous as well. Among them is Aberdeen, a golf course community with a range of housing from townhomes to cottages to executive homes. The golf course is the work of Dr. Michael Hurdzan, honored in 1997 as golf-course architect of the year.

A new option is the 39-acre Meridian Woods, which is being marketed to "active adults" who hope to lessen their home-maintenance load. Plans call for "duet" homes and apartments built amid wetlands, woods and walking trails.

The attention these housing communities give to caring for the environment reflects the same kind of concern that has kept the Valparaiso downtown in such prime condition. Says Nancy Pekarek, who has been city planner for 12 years, "When I talk to people, they define Valparaiso around its downtown as a small city with a lot of charm."

Oeding offers one example. "The chamber wanted to put up new Christmas lights and decorations in downtown. I called 15 people and raised $10,000. Just like that. The city did the electricity and now we've got new lights coming and the wiring is being done, just like that. In a city like this, you know people well enough that you can pick up the phone and call them when you need something."
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Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2000
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